I know, some of you are thinking, “Congratulations, Dave! You’ve figured out that there’s a difference between selling to consumers and to businesses!”
No, that’s not why I make a point of this distinction. I make this point because as I review other blogs and writings on the Customer Development process, Lean Startups, etc., it’s becoming clear to me that some advice is directed toward user interface testing and B2C demand while others is key for B2B. Of course, some advice works for both. Here’s my overview and comments on a few lists I’ve found.
Giff Constable provides “12 Tips for Early Customer Interviews“. At first this appeared to me to be a B2C list, primarily because the very first tip mentions he likes to have one-on-one interviews and he also suggests keeping in mind the demographics of those with whom you want to speak. However, as I read his list more critically, almost everything applies to B2B meetings as well. In summary:
- Plan ahead relative to target prospects and line of questioning
- One prospect at a time – no focus groups
- Take and compile notes
- Open-ended questions
- Listen, confirm, and drill down
- Separate behavior from feelings [this is critical…more on it further down]
- Beware of politeness that papers over reality
- Get referrals for further meetings
I like that Giff has revised it a few times. One of his best insights is at the end and not numbered — “…it is exactly the ability to use human judgement based on human connections that make interviews so much more useful than surveys.”
Giff also suggests two other lists — the first is Marc McNeill’s “Twelve Tips for Customer Development Interviews“. Marc is the co-author of Agile Experience Design.
Marc’s list also starts out with a definite B2C flavor — “You’ve got to go to where your target market hang out…” — but many of the recommendations are applicable to B2B meetings.
My summary of Marc’s list:
- Plan ahead
- Open-ended questions
- Avoid hypotheticals
- Show rather than tell
- Drill down for details
- Maybe try to close
Avoiding hypotheticals and showing rather than telling are important additions.
However, my favorite out of the lists I seen so far is by Sean Murphy in his blog which he wrote as a reaction to Giff’s original and first revisions.
I like it because the extra layer of specificity shows me his field experience is extensive and he is looking for clues and evidence of how to spot future customers. His advice is biased toward learning for future action, rather than just making that meeting or interview better.
Just in his title, Sean makes the B2B distinction. His focus on “past behavior” and “actual situations” shows me he knows that what people do is more important than what they say. He suggests asking about ranges when quantities are vague.
[An aside: although now out of the house, my kids learned this one from me early on and used it on me when they were teenagers quite often. Whenever I’d answer a question vaguely, usually while distracted, with “I don’t know.” They’d respond, “Well, was it two times or twenty times, Dad?” “Was it late in the day or closer to breakfast?” “Did it happen today? Earlier in the week?”. I got two messages. One, they do listen when you have something useful to share and Two, get rid of your distraction, you’re being engaged by someone you care about.]
Although he does have the ubiquitous “Listen”, Sean’s list gets stronger near the end: “Probe What’s Changed” — now this is written like a true detective. And, “Don’t Talk About Possible Solutions Until You Have Thoroughly Bounded Their Problem or Need.” I like to say, “Ask about facts before you ask about opinion.”
To round out his review, Sean mentions Tristan Kromer’s “12 Random Customer Development Tips“. Tristan’s list are really aphorisms for customer development and show great insight and experience. These all have a strong B2B foundation. My favorites from Tristan’s Tips:
- The amount of time someone will complain about a problem without prompting is directly correlated to the amount they’ll pay for a solution.
- Ask the customer to describe their problem using their own words. It’s probably the exact same words they’ll type into google to find a solution.
- If someone says, “I could see a lot of people might want this” it means that they themselves don’t want it.
- # of questions you ask / # of sentences you speak = % of customer development you actually did.
Calls to Action: When reading or learning a particular process or procedure within Customer Development or Customer Discovery, be careful to understand whether it’s specific to B2C or B2B. Of course, it could be useful for both.